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Tamil Nadu: Cultural Heritage

Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu

The cultural Heritage of Tamil Nadu goes way back to ancient times. The contribution of Tamil Nadu to literature, music and arts of Indian heritage is exemplary.

Music and dance are the essence of Tamil Nadu. Rowing bands travel from village to village singing ballads and rendering entertainment to the common folks. Some of the important folk dance forms are briefed below.

Bharatha Natyam


It is one of the oldest dance forms of India that originated in Tamil Nadu. It was originally performed in temples as part of the religious rituals. The salient features of bharatanatyam are that the dancer moves and creates a series of geometrical patterns. Bharatanatyam is a purest form of classical dance. It is a blend of Nirtta (the rhythmic movement of the body without any expression of emotion), Nirtya (the combination of rhythm with expression through eyes, hands and facial movements) and Natya (the dramatic element). Bharatanatyam is performed with Abhinaya(expression), rasa (emotion) and mudras(hand formations). All Dances are structured around 'nava rasas' (the common emotions of happiness, anger, disgust, fear, sorrow, courage, compassion, wonder and serenity). The dance is accompanied by carnatic music.

Karagam Dance

A folk dance performed by a performer balancing a decorated pot on his head.

Kavadi Attam

The dance is performed by the devotees of Lord Murugan, the son of Lord Shiva. Dressed in bright yellow or saffron robes, devotees performing kavadiyattam smear vibhoothi or sacred ash all over their body. Each one carries on his shoulder an ornate Kavadi - a huge bow, richly decorated with peacock feathers, (it is believed that the peacock is the vehicle of Sree Subramanya). Kavadiyattam literally means dance carrying a kavadi. Kavadies are usually of different sizes and shapes, each with its own significance.

The dancers twist and spin in a row. A group of such kavadi dancers make an exotic sight. The dancers gradually move in a frenzy, in step with the rising beats of percussion instruments accompanying the procession. Sometimes nadaswaram, a wind instrument, is also used


Poikkal Kuthirai Attam

Another performing folk dance. The performer dresses and pretends as if he is riding a horse and dance to the rhythmic music.



As stated earlier, music is an essence of Tamil Nadu. The classical form of music in South India is Carnatic Music. It is a treatise of Sage Bharata and might have originated as a result of Bakti Movement. With the temples as the focal points, music flourished through the ages. Tamil Nadu provided the right environment for the promotion of music. The performing artists had preserved the purity of the traditional styles even today. The Music Academy at Chennai and other cultural organizations throughout Tamil Nadu patronize music and present cultural functions to entertain the visitors.


Tamil Language and literature have greater antiquity than most of the Indian languages including Hindi.

The Sangam literature from the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD is considered a landmark in the literary and cultural history of Tamils. The greatest literary work of the Sangam age is Thiruvalluvar's Thirukkural, composed with 1330 couplets dealing with morality in public and private life. Even after the Sangam age, Tamil writers continued to produce excellent literary works under the patronage of royal dynasties. Silapathikaram (200 ~ 300AD) by Ilango Adigal and Manimekalai (200 ~ 300AD) by Sathanar are such great Tamil epics. Over the ages the south produced great poets like Kamban who composed the Tamil version of the Ramayana.


Arjuna's Penance, Mamallapuram

The history of architecture and sculpture in Tamil Nadu begins with the Pallava Temples, the specific Dravidian style. The temples in Kanchi and the rock-cut temples known as the seven pagodas in Mamallapuram are built in Pallava style. The fine sculptures on rock walls, the wonderful monolithic temples and many rock-cut caves stand in testimony to the superb Pallava arts.

The Cholas who succeeded the Pallavas were mighty builders as well. The Dravidian style was almost perfected under them. The best example of this style is the great Brihadeswarar temple built at Tanjavur by the great Rajaraja Chola. Chola art is characterized by a massive grandeur. The huge structures were decorated with minute sculptures those involved immense labor and pain. The Cholas also contributed significantly to the arts of bronzes. The Chola bronzes speak volumes about the artistry and skill of the carvers with which they were made. Nataraja, the dancing Shiva at Chidambaram is a classic example of Chola craftsmanship.

The Pandyas of Madurai also contributed their share to the temple heritage. The temples of Madurai are befitting examples of Pandya style of temple architecture.



The Tamil cuisine is perhaps the oldest representative of the continuous vegetarian cultures of the world. The delicious dishes from the state are relished all over the country and abroad. The cuisine has important delicacies like dosa, idli and vada served with sambar and chutneys. There is a wide range of rice and vegetable preparations. The Tamil food is of great value and good quality. The meals are traditionally served on banana leaves.,/P>